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Archive for the tag “Margaret of Austria”

A series of Hapsburg Doñas

By now, the regular followers of my blog know I
a) have a thing about strong women
b) am very interested in the Hapsburgs. (I am also somewhat crazy about the medieval period and the seventeenth century, but as today’s post has NOTHING to do with these periods, I am glossing over these addictions of mine)

Now, I have written a lot of posts about the Spanish Hapsburgs and today I aim to share another little story with you. Or maybe it is more of a reflection, along the lines that men who have a healthy self-confidence appreciate and encourage strong women. It takes balls to share the stage with a colourful and intrepid lady—as valid today as it has been in the past.

The early Spanish Hapsburgs were obviously well-endowed gents. Carlos I & V had been raised by his aunt Archduchess Margaret of Austria, an impressive lady, and clearly this made him positively disposed towards other strong women, as he selected his sister, Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary,  to succeed Margaret as the governor of the Low Countries when Margaret died.

Hapsburg ladies Marie_de_hongrie_1520

Mary, Carlos’ sister

Mary was temperamentally not as comfortable with ruling as Auntie Margaret had been. She wasn’t quite as social, quite as much the life and soul of a party – not that Margaret was much into capering about and singing loudly, but she knew how to mingle, how to cajole and convince. Mary was of a much more serious disposition and had to learn these skills, recognising that the independently minded Flemish and Dutch subjects were not exactly dazzled into obedience, no matter how grand their governor or how much blue blood ran in the governor’s veins. Interestingly enough, the fact that Mary was a woman does not seem to have been an issue. Besides, should someone displease Mary, the chances were high brother Carlos would ride in to punish the perpetrator.

Mary and Carlos did not see eye to eye on everything. Specifically, they did not agree on how to handle the Lutheran movement. Carlos was all for bashing every Protestant over the head and burning them as the heretics they were, thereby hoping to prod those among the Dutch who’d converted into returning to the fold of the Holy Roman Church. Mary had a much more tolerant approach, advocating that as long as her Protestant subjects respected the laws and did their duty by her, she saw no reason to persecute them on account of their faith. Nice lady.

Hapsburg ladies Mary Meister_der_Magdalenen-Legende_001

Maria of Spain

Other than his sister, Carlos V also had competent daughters whom he also promoted to positions of influence. His legitimate daughter, Maria of Spain, was on several occasions left in charge of Spain, both to cover for her dear Papa and, after Carlos had abdicated, for her brother, Felipe II.

Hapsburg ladies sebastian

Juana’s baby son, Sebastian

The same goes for Maria’s sister Juana, who was ordered to return home to Valladolid in Castile from Portugal and assume the regency. Juana did as she was told, leaving behind her baby son. As heir to the Portuguese throne, baby Sebastian was not allowed to leave the country. Juana never saw her son again, this despite him surviving childhood and growing into a fine young man before he died fighting in Morocco. (Well, it is assumed he died fighting as he was last seen charging the enemies) No, instead Juana turned to God and is the only known woman to have become a member of the Jesuits. Clearly, something I need to explore further…

Carlos V was a man who seems to have believed in the sanctity of marriage. Yes, he sired some illegitimate children, but they were either born before or after his marriage. As a youth he developed a passion for a Flemish lady named Judith and fathered a girl, Margaret, born in 1522. The child was raised at the court of the Archduchess Margaret and Mary of Austria, her father setting out a detailed schedule for her education. At the age of seven, Margaret was formally recognised by her father and some years later she was sent off to Italy, destined to marry Alessandro d’Medici. Her first hubby was assassinated and Margaret was wed to Ottavio Farnese, no matter that the fifteen-year-old bride clearly expressed she did not want to marry the future Duke of Parma. Poor Margaret had a hard time of things as her father the Emperor had every intention of controlling most of Italy while the pope and  her husband, understandably, were less than thrilled with the idea. Several years later, an agreement was struck whereby Parma remained independent on the condition that the Emperor was granted custody of the young heir to Parma, Margaret’s son Alessandro Farnese.

hapsburg ladies MargarethevonParma01

Margaret (or Margarita) of Parma

As a consequence of this agreement, Margaret took her ten-year-old son and in 1555 returned to the Netherlands. Her boy she transferred into the care of her brother, Felipe II, who sent little Alessandro to Spain to be raised with his own (rather insane) son and the other known illegitimate child of Carlos V, Juan de Austria. Margaret was made governor of the Low Countries. However: Felipe had no intention of letting Margaret rule according to her own head or heart, which put Margaret in an untenable position.

In protest to Felipe’s meddling, Margaret resigned and returned to Italy but was recalled some years later by Felipe to co-rule the Low Countries with her son (Alessandro Farnese was the bees’ knees according to his uncle and various of his contemporaries. From Felipe’s perspective, Alessandro came with the benefit of being 100% loyal to him, having been more or less raised by Felipe) Mother and son did not really hit it off, and Margaret was allowed to retire to Italy where she died some years later.

I suppose one could argue that in the case of Margaret, she was more of a figurehead than a person with real power, and Felipe seems to have been more hesitant about endowing women with power than his father was. In difference to Carlos, Felipe had been raised without any strong females in his proximity.

In 1566, Felipe’s French wife Elizabeth of Valois gave birth to a daughter, Isabel Clara Eugenia. Felipe was delighted, falling in love with his baby girl from the first moment he saw her. Isabel would grow up to be the only child Felipe allowed to help him with his work, in charge of sorting his correspondence and of translating from Italian to Spanish. As was the custom among the Hapsburgs. Isabel was betrothed at a very early age to her first cousin Rudolf of Austria, next in line to become the Holy Roman Emperor. Rudolf, however, was to grow up into a man with no interest whatsoever in marrying. So there was poor Isabel, left standing atop Spinster Mountain. Not for long, though, as her dear Papa soon came up with the suggestion that she marry another of her first cousins, Albert of Austria.

This Albert had been raised in Spain, destined for the Church. In 1577 he’d been made a cardinal, despite being very young (eighteen) and not having taken full orders. Hmm. What money and influence can buy, right? Still valid in our day and age, except that these days no one wants to buy a cardinal’s hat… When Felipe proposed that he marry Isabel, Albert was the Archbishop of Toledo which, one assumes, would have led to a number of raised brows: archbishops did not marry. Albert, however, was more eager to wed than pursue an ecclesiastic career and so he resigned the archbishopric, married Isabel and was, together with his wife, made governor of the Low Countries.

hapsburg ladies Isabella_Clara_Eugenia_Spain_Albrecht

Albert and Isabel

Isabel and Albert were a great double act. Together, they brought stability and peace to the Spanish Netherlands. Together, they promoted measures that strengthened the cultural identity of the Flemish Catholics, such as supporting Rubens magnificent paintings. They developed trade, they helped the region to flourish. Under their rule, Brussels became a centre of culture, of trade and learning. And when Albert died in 1621, Isabel continued to rule on her own, appointed governor by her half-brother Felipe III. When she died in 1633, she left behind a well-ruled region and subjects who genuinely grieved for her. I believe the old Archduchess Margaret, aunt to Isabel’s grandfather Carlos V, would have approved. A lot.

My dearest cousin and husband – of a Spanish queen

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation (Margaret of Austria)

It strikes me, sometimes, just how short the lives of some historical people were. Take, for example, Margaret of Austria. Who? Exactly: who? Well, for one thing she was the mother of Philip IV of Spain. She was also her son’s third cousin – on multiple sides. When her son went on to marry his own niece some years later – Margaret’s granddaughter, Mariana – all those incestuous marriages came home to roost. Which is why Margaret of Austria has the dubious honour of being the paternal grandmother to the last of the Spanish Hapsburg kings, Carlos II, El Hechizado (the bewitched. The poor man was a borderline idiot, handicapped both mentally and physically. It is somewhat fortunate he was never capable of producing any children, no matter that he enthusiastically tried.)

We can’t blame poor Margaret for all this mess. She was a victim of the Hapsburgs’ idiotic ambition to keep their blood lines pure. One wonders where the pope was in all this – after all, marriages between people so closely related required dispensations. Oh, right: the pope was safely tucked into the pocket of the Hapsburgs, not about to risk the ire of the Spanish or Austrian Emperor.

It’s all very complicated, this Hapsburg intermarrying: Charles V (or I of Spain) started by marrying his cousin, then went on to marry his daughter, Maria, to his nephew, Maximillian II, Holy Roman Emperor. A first cousin marriage – the first of many.

Maximillian and Maria had a daughter, Anna, who was married to Charles Vs son, Philip II (yet another product of Charles Vs cosy marriage with his first cousin). Philip II’s bride was therefore not only his niece but also his second cousin. They had a son, the future Philip III.


Philip III

Maximillian had a brother, Charles. This gentleman was also, per definition, a cousin of Philip II and Maria. Charles had a daughter. This was Margaret, the heroine of today’s post. At the age of fifteen, she was married to Philip III, her second cousin, whose DNA was already a somewhat lethal cocktail given the borderline incestuous marriages that had engendered him.

But before we leap into Margaret’s married life, let us give her some more context. Margaret had a brother, Ferdinand, who was to become the Holy Roman Emperor in 1618 as Ferdinand II. If one wants to be nasty, one could blame the Thirty Years’ War on Ferdinand – his intolerant approach to his future Protestant subjects sparked the so called Bohemian Revolt, seen as the starting point of this European tragedy. Ferdinand, of course, would probably blame it all on the Bohemians – and on that rapacious Count Palatinate, Frederick, who made a grab for the Bohemian crown. (see here)

Margaret also has an indirect connection to Sweden in that two of her sisters were married to Sigismund, King of Poland and (for a while) Sweden. Apparently, Sigismund was so happy with his first Hapsburg bride that when Anna died in 1598 (she haemorrhaged while giving birth), she decided to replace his beloved wife with her much younger sister, 22 years his junior.



Like all her numerous siblings, well, like most of her relatives, Margaret was very pious. Too pious, many thought, and there were mutterings here and there that Margaret was far too much under the thumb of various representatives of the Holy Roman Church. A devout Catholic, Margaret considered all Protestants heretics, an opinion she shared with her extensive family. It did cause a number of uncomfortable moments, this implacable view on Protestants – like when Margaret’s older sister, Anna, was crowned queen of Sweden and more or less refused to show herself or interact with her disgustingly Protestant Swedish subjects…neither here nor there, at least not in this post.

Felipe IV and Maria Anna

Two of Margaret’s children, Maria Anna and Philip IV

Despite all this religion and consanguinity – or maybe because of it – Margaret was happy in her marriage to Philip III, only some six years her senior and quite smitten with his wife. Even better, within six years of their marriage, Margaret proudly presented her husband with the first of three sons, the future Philip IV. All was well in the Spanish Empire – the succession guaranteed, and the True Faith adequately defended by the queen and king.

Well, if you were to ask Margaret, all was not so well. Margaret exerted substantial influence over her king, as she should, being his wife. Another source of influence was her husband’s paternal aunt, the widowed Empress Maria (see further up: the lady who married Maximilian II and was sister to Philip II) who had returned to Spain upon her husband’s death to breathe in the invigorating, heretically unpolluted air of her homeland. Despite these formidable ladies, the real mover and shaker was Philip III’s favourite, Francisco Gómez Sandoval y Rojas – or the duke of Lerma for short.

This rather flamboyant character resented the queen’s influence over the king. Or rather, he smirked at her attempts to play a political role in her new country. After all, Lerma had been in control of Philip’s kingdom since the moment the king took over back in 1598. At the time, Philip was 20, Lerma a seasoned 45 or so.


Rubens – The Duke of Lerma

To this day, opinions as to Lerma remain divided. Was he only out to feather his own nest, or was he devoted to the young king? Seeing as Philip III preferred to spend his time on religious rituals and festivals, maybe his favourite did him a favour by relieving him of the tedious business of ruling. And Lerma wasn’t a total catastrophe, although he did bring the country to the brink of bankruptcy. After all, it was Lerma who negotiated the twelve year truce with those pesky Dutch insurgents in 1609. It was Lerma who brokered the various Austria and France marriages, it was Lerma who approved of Felipe’s support of Ferdinand’s bellicose efforts against the Protestants (and here Lerma and Margaret were in total agreement) thereby indirectly bringing Spain into the Thirty Years’ War. Not so sure this was a good thing, though.

It was also Lerma who expelled the Moriscos  from Spain in 1607, a human tragedy of enormous consequences. 300 000 Moriscos, i.e. former Moors, since generations converted to Catholicism, were forced to leave the land of their birth. This earned Lerma uncountable brownie points with the Spanish clergy – it also helped fill the very empty royal coffers, as what the Moriscos couldn’t carry with them automatically became the property of the king.

Anyway: Margaret didn’t like Lerma (although she applauded his actions vis-à-vis the Moriscos. Very much in line with her family’s intolerant approach to all but those of the Catholic faith…) The king, however, had no intention of burdening himself with the actual ruling part of his position, and at some point Margaret gave up. Lerma was simply too powerful, and besides, she was kept busy birthing baby after baby.

Bartolomé González y Serrano (1564–1627), Alfonso, the son of Philip III of Spain

Bartolomé González y Serrano – Infante Alfonso

And this is where I come back to my original comment, namely that about how brief some life spans were. Our Margaret died in 1611, not yet 27 years old. She died in the aftermath of childbirth – a fourth son, Alfonso, who would die within a year. Over ten years, she’d given the king eight children, of which six survived infancy. The king was devastated. Crushed. He never re-married, holding himself to the memory of his beloved wife.

As a little codicil, it might be interesting to know that some years after Margaret’s death, Lerma finally hit the dust. Lerma’s own son manoeuvred his father’s fall from grace – and this Machiavellian plotting probably deserves a post (or a book) of its own. Had it not been for the fact that Lerma had recently succeeded in having the pope make him a cardinal (a very effective form of life insurance), God alone knows how things would have ended for Lerma. But in all this furore, someone had to hang, pay for the sins of the former favourite, and the beady eye of Lerma’s son stuck on Lerma’s private secretary, Rodrigo Calderón.


Rubens – Rodrigo Calderón

Suddenly, people started muttering that Queen Margaret had not died in childbirth – no, she’d died because Calderón had used witchcraft on her. A ridiculous accusation, but Calderón was a haughty, unpopular man who most definitely had grown very rich during the years he served Lerma. Calderón was arrested, tortured, and somewhere along the line, his tormentors found a real murder they could pin on Calderón, that of a soldier in 1614. He confessed – after hours of torture. In 1621, Calderón was beheaded, a gesture to appease all those who bayed for Lerma’s blood but couldn’t get it, what with all that scarlet the new, very devout, cardinal wore.

Retrato_de_Felipe_IV,_by_Diego_Velázquez (1)

Philip IV by Velázquez

By then, Philip III was also dead (he never remarried after his beloved wife’s death), and Spain was now ruled by a boy of sixteen, Philip IV. Once again, the reins of government would be placed in the hands of a favourite, the Duke of Olivares. Once again, the Spanish king would wed a close Austrian relative, Queen Mariana (see post here). But this queen would not succeed in giving her husband the healthy heir he so desired – their DNA was too damaged by generations of in-breeding. Somehow, I suspect those oh, so devout Hapsburgs chose to blame God instead. Or the Protestants.

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